Gender, Social Norms, and Household Production in Burkina Faso
Empirical studies of intrahousehold allocation have revealed that, in many instances, gender is an important determinant in the allocation of resources within the household. Yet, within the theoretical literature, why gender matters within the household remains an open question. In this article, we propose a simple model of intrahousehold allocation based on a particular social institution for the organization of agricultural production practiced among certain ethnic groups in West Africa. We highlight how this institution, while resolving certain problems of commitment and informational asymmetry, can also lead to a gendered pattern in the allocation of productive resources and consumption within the household. Using a survey of agricultural households in Burkina Faso, we show, consistent with this theory, that plots owned by the head of the household are farmed more intensively and achieve higher yields than plots with similar characteristics owned by other household members. Male and female family members who do not head the household achieve similar yields. We argue that the higher yields achieved by the household head may be explained in terms of social norms that require him to spend the earnings from some plots under his control exclusively on household public goods, which in turn provides other family members the incentive to voluntarily contribute labor on his farms. Using expenditures data, as well as measures of rainfall to capture weather-related shocks to agricultural income, we show that the household head has, indeed, a higher marginal propensity to spend on household public goods than other household members. The fact that the head of the household is usually male accounts for the gendered pattern in labor allocation and yields across different farm plots.
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